Descending the escalators toward the baggage claim carousels at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Monday, unaware travelers who just gotten off Delta Air Lines Flight 2816 from New York had to think Twin Citians were either the friendliest folks they’d ever encountered or were starved for something to do.
Each one received applause from a crowd of more than 100 Lynx fans who had gathered to welcome the five members of the team who were returning home after helping Team USA win the women’s basketball gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
And when the Lynx — players Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles, and coach Cheryl Reeve — finally did appear, laden with gold medals, the cheer was long and loud. Grinning in disbelief at their reception, the players moved slowly through a throng that followed them to the media reception area. Fowles even held up her camera, recording those recording her.
“This is great, it’s awesome,” Whalen said. “It’s a ton of support and we’re all very happy to be back.”
Fans had begun to gather more than an hour before the flight’s arrival a few minutes after 6 p.m While justifiably proud of the Olympic victory, some were itching to get back to the season at hand after a monthlong hiatus.
“I’m ready. It was really hard to have it gone for a month,” said a Lynx season ticket-holder known as Kricket.
For fan Barb Gilbertson, watching the Games carried a bittersweet taste. It soothed her need for basketball, she said, but she found it hard to cheer for certain players.
“I’m glad they’re back,” Gilbertson said. “Because I just do not like Diana Taurasi. There’s just something about her ... I’m glad I don’t have to cheer for her anymore.”
The four gold medals with which the Lynx contingent returned gives them a total of 10: three each for Augustus and Fowles and two each for Whalen and Moore. All four players were on the gold-winning United States team in London in 2012 as well.
“I was kind of a rookie in the group,” Reeve said. “I can’t put words on what an amazing experience it was, not just the basketball part of it, but the quality of people that we had representing our country is something we should be proud of.”
While in Rio, the team eschewed the Olympic village and lived aboard a cruise ship for the duration of their stay. Whalen said she enjoyed the unique experience (“It was pretty cool. I’ve never been on a cruise before,” she said), but Fowles, all 6 feet 5 of her, had one goal in mind upon returning home.
“I want to take a shower in a normal-sized shower,” she said.
The Lynx (21-4 and a half-game behind Los Angeles in the West), return to the court Friday in Uncasville, Conn., against the Connecticut Sun.
Their first home game is Sunday, when they play the Seattle Storm (7 p.m., ESPN2).
Most of the other WNBA teams have had an entire month to rest and prepare for the stretch run to the playoffs while the Lynx, with one-third of their team busy with the Olympics, have not. Fowles said she doesn’t think that will make a difference.
“We’re used to traveling and and playing overseas,” she said. “This is what we do.”
• Reeve was noncommittal when asked if Anna Cruz, the guard from silver medalist Spain who played a pivotal role in the Lynx’s WNBA championship in 2015, would return to the team.
“Her run with the Spanish national team has taken its toll physically on her,” Reeve said. “What we’ve talked about is just let everybody get home, let the dust settle a little bit and see where we’re at in a couple weeks.”